The BBC seems to have hit its stride again with some excellent science documentaries. After the appalling decline of Horizon, once the flagship of BBC science documentaries into dumbed-down crap produced by meeja-studies graduates, it comes as something of a relief to be able to say that the Science You Can’t See season on BBC Four is shaping up very well. After two reasonable programmes on the quest for Absolute Zero, I’ve just seen the first of three programmes on the science of the atom.
I’m impressed. Presented by Professor Jim Al-Khalili, this is science that is not dumbed-down in the slightest. And we didn’t have any of those appalling "reconstructions", with actors hamming it up. Instead we got documentary footage of the real people involved – most memorably of the amazing conference at Solvay, with Einstein and Bohr representing the opposing sides, and duking it out with their theories.
The fifth Solvay conference formed the climax of the first of Al-Khalili’s programmes, and he literally walked us through the famous photograph of the attendees at the conference, to great effect. Then we suddenly cut from the conference building in Brussels to the good professor standing in an Alpine meadow. For one dizzy moment, I felt sure that he was about to do a Julie Andrews and burst into song, but no; he simply set up the next episode, which I can’t wait to see. Very good stuff indeed. It clearly helps to have someone who knows his stuff, and who is a great communicator, to front up a science programme like this.
I’m also greatly looking forward to another programme in the season: Dangerous Knowledge, which will include the life and work of Alan Turing.